What role does education play in efforts to equip inmates to transition successfully out of incarceration and back into the community? That’s the unspoken question at the core of each of the articles in this issue of Focus on Basics. Education is the pivotal element in the Offender Re-Entry Program that serves the Suffolk County (Massachusetts) House of Corrections, writes Bob Flynn in the cover article. The writing workshop instills confidence as it provides inmates with concepts, skills, and strategies. And in working on autobiographies, inmates form relationships with teachers that last as the teachers support them in their transition back to the community.
Kathy Goebel, based in Washington state, describes why an emphasis on re-entry is so important and the role that education plays in those efforts (page 9). NCSALL researcher John Tyler finds that the GED has a positive economic impact on minority ex- offenders during the first two years after release from incarceration. The first two years are crucial, so this is good news. However, these effects diminish over time and are not found for white ex-offenders. Read about this study and consider its implications, page 11.
In Hawaii, Vanessa Helsham uses Hawaiian cultural references and literature in her classes in the Learning Center in the Halawa Correctional Facility. She also teaches traditional hula dancing and, in her class, members of rival gangs work together (page 13). If you’re doing it wrong, in hula, you have to change. It’s like life, she explains. Pauline Geraci writes about using a different art form — poetry — in the Minnesota Correctional Facility Stillwater (page 15).
On page 21, Dominique Chlup, Texas, provides a chronology of corrections education from 1789 and an in-depth discussion of this area over the past 65 years. Education’s role in corrections ebbs and flows as society’s views of incarceration shift from punishment-oriented to rehabilitative.
Everyone, even the incarcerated, has a right to an education in Vermont, explains Tom Woods, a teacher in the Community High School of Vermont. Read about this school and how it serves a transitory population with a huge range of educational backgrounds and needs (page 25). While certain aspects of being a teacher transcend place, some do not. For those Focus on Basics readers who are not corrections educators, Dominique Chlup describes what it’s like to teach in a correctional facility. Her article starts on page 30.
Recognizing that offenders have a high incidence of disabilities, low academic skills, and other related challenges, Missouri and Ohio are using comprehensive screening systems and putting into place a web of follow-up services, including education. Laura Weisel, Alan Toops, and Robin Schwarz report on these efforts (page 31). Bill Muth shares the results of his research on assessing offenders’ literacy skills, beliefs, and practices (page 35) and offers a model of literacy assessment that can more meaningfully inform placement and instruction. Just as services are learning to work together to maximize their effectiveness, so are advisory boards. Marianna Ruprecht, Wisconsin, shares how her board used technology to do so (page 40).
Welcome to those corrections educators who are new to Focus on Basics: We hope this issue serves you well. We also encourage you to seek out earlier issues of the publication for information and ideas relevant to your experience as an educator.